By Jill Adair | Digital Free Press
After a five-year hiatus, the Mesa Temple Christmas Lights return this year to the renovated temple grounds, 101 S. LeSueur, for 37 spectacular nights – from Nov. 25 through Dec. 31. The lights are on nightly from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
The event – previously called one of the “must-see holiday lighting extravaganzas in the United States” – has drawn over a million visitors annually from across Arizona and far beyond to partake of the Christmas spirit on these lawns in downtown Mesa.
Event planners say it is one of the largest known volunteer-driven Christmas lighting displays in the country and has been a beloved community tradition in the area since 1979. It is sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“It is our gift to the community,” says Stacey Farr, who began serving as an assistant director of the lighting event 10 years ago and became director in 2015.
She says she and other organizers of the event are grateful for the countless hours given by local volunteers to make this event possible.
“The impact of these people – the time they graciously give – is tremendous,” says Ms. Farr. “They give and give weekly — in the (warehouse) building, on the grounds, and at home working on projects.
During the 37 days of the event, there will be nearly 175 people helping each night.
“It’s definitely a team effort,” says Ms. Farr.
Christmas Lights and more
Included in this free event are hundreds of thousands of lights, favorite Biblical displays, larger-than-life lighted wisemen and their camels and near life-size Italian Fontanini nativity figurines and stable at the northwest corner of the Mesa Temple with a newly designed star, twinkling with thousands of white lights.
The Fontanini nativity figurines (added in 2000) will find themselves in a redesigned stable to allow viewing from a wider angle in a grassy area at the northwest corner of the temple.
The Italian figurine designer and painter Emanuele Fontanini started his company in 1908 and four generations have specialized in handcrafted, hand-painted nativity figures, which have become Christmas symbols throughout the world.
The nativity scene is near the road on the west side for people who may not be able to walk around the grounds and can be seen while driving by.
Also included are favorite Biblical displays, including Mary and Joseph on their journey to Bethlehem and the prophet Isaiah prophesying of Christ’s birth (both which have been a part of the event since 2005), In addition, the Woman at the Well, Lost Sheep, Shepherd Boy, and Gift Givers and will be nestled among the olive trees north of the temple with QR code stands that visitors can scan with a cell phone and be linked to online videos that give deeper insight to the scenes. Each vignette will have its own audio system playing accompanying music and narration.
“Our mission is to humbly and worthily create sacred Christmas displays, in music and lights, which reflects the beauty and integrity of the temple, inviting all people to feel Christ’s Spirit.”— Mesa Temple Christmas Lights committee’s mission statement
International Nativity Display
Across the street on the west side, at 455 E. Main St., the Mesa Temple Visitors’ Center hosts a display of more than 100 international nativities from across the world. Admission to the display is free and open each evening 5-10 p.m.
These representations of Jesus Christ’s birth come in all sizes — from miniature to several feet high; from a variety of mediums used to craft them — wood, copper, porcelain, metal, fabric, resin and natural items picked up by locals in remote areas of the world; and from every continent and various countries and cultures across the globe, including Tonga, Nicaragua, Madagascar, Costa Rica, France, Mongolia, Ghana and many more.
“Many of the nativities are homemade,” says Susan Fuller, chair of the nativity display since 2005. “And what is so special about that is that they represent someone’s love for Christ. It’s part of their testimony. This whole display is all about the birth of Christ, and I think it’s very touching.”
A Thomas Kincaid centerpiece nativity will be featured in the main part of the Visitors’ Center with a Kincaid-like chalk painting behind it by local artists Karen Schmeiser and Trisha Faith Wilkins. A new crèche will accompany it – built from the large temple grounds crèche that was revamped for wider viewing.
“In Remembrance of Me” – Murals of Christ
The Visitors’ Center also offers guided and self-guided tours of floor-to-ceiling murals of Christ. “In Remembrance of Me” murals commemorate the life and works of Christ and remind visitors of the miraculous gifts the Savior offers. The Visitors’ Center is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. throughout the holiday season.
Free Parking and Valley Metro Light Rail
Free parking may be available in the city’s Park and Ride lot at the northeast corner of Mesa Drive and Main Street just north of the Mesa Temple Visitors’ Center.
Visitors are encouraged to travel to the temple grounds via Valley Metro’s Light Rail System. Light rail park and ride locations are found at Gilbert and Main, Dobson and Main and other locations along the Light Rail route. A Light Rail stop is located just west of the Mesa Temple. From there, it is a short walk to the lighting event.
On Friday and Saturday evenings there will be no charge for the Light Rail on Main Street from Gilbert Road to Sycamore in Mesa.
For more info, see Mesa Temple Christmas Lights FAQ.